The Scatter Sunshine foundation sponsoring equine therapy for special needs riders

The Scatter Sunshine foundation will hold their annual day of fundraising on June 6, which sponsors equine therapy for children with special needs.

Horses Harry (left) and Sebastian (right) lap up water on a particularly warm afternoon on Wednesday, May 17 at Majoda Stables in Moorestown. Beneficiaries of Scatter Sunshine’s scholarships participate in equine therapy at Majoda Stables.

When the Bungarden family lost one of their members, they chose to take their tragedy and channel it into something that might bring hope to other families. Nearly eight years ago, they started Scatter Sunshine, a philanthropic foundation that raises funds for equine therapy, which had brought joy to Rachel Bungarden’s life.

Today, the once hyperlocal effort has grown to become a spirit day of sorts throughout Burlington Township, and this year, the Bungarden family is working to expand by getting Westampton involved. On Tuesday, June 6, Scatter Sunshine will host its annual day of fundraising with students at all schools in the Burlington Township district, staff at Westampton Middle School and members of both communities wearing yellow in support of the foundation.

Through the sale of their yellow Scatter Sunshine shirts and fundraising at Luigi’s Pizza Fresca in Burlington Township, the foundation sponsors equine therapy for riders with special needs whose families cannot afford therapeutic lessons. Lisa Bungarden said having witnessed the benefits of equine therapy firsthand, the family knew they wanted to enable others to have the experience.

Bungarden’s history with equine therapy began when her daughter, Rachel, was 2 years old. Rachel was born with a 7q35 deletion — a rare chromosomal abnormality that doctors informed the Bungarden family would most likely leave her unable to walk or speak.

Bungarden said Rachel was in physical therapy from the time she was a baby, and it was at the suggestion of one of her physical therapists that they tried equine therapy. The family was living in California at the time, and the therapist suggested a nearby farm.

While the family was debating whether to give equine therapy a try, a fortuitous visit to a fair offered them a chance to see how Rachel would do. Bungarden said following that pony ride, her nonverbal daughter was enthralled and began to sign up a storm. At that moment, they knew equine therapy works.

Doctors said Rachel would not walk, but equine therapy helped give her strength in her legs to do so. It also helped her to develop friendships and gave her a sense of responsibility as she helped care for the horses she rode.

“With children especially, the gait of a horse mimics the gait of a human,” Bungarden said. “Riding builds strength, loosens up those muscles, and the heat in combination with their gait helps to loosen their muscles.”

Bungarden said the summer camps, special olympics events and horse-related activities brought Rachel tremendous joy.

Cheryl Stevens leads mule Lazer to his equine therapy session on Wednesday, May 17. Lazer is one of several animals at Majoda Stables in Moorestown used for therapeutic riding.

At the age of 11, Rachel passed away after suffering a stroke. Within six months of her passing, the family knew they wanted to spread awareness about equine therapy. Sunshine had been a family nickname for Rachel, so they started the Scatter Sunshine foundation.

Lisa, along with her husband Rich and two sons Adam and Drew, started small that year selling t-shirts and bracelets at Burlington Township schools. Since then, the amount of money they raised has doubled with teachers and staff at all Burlington Township schools paying $5 to dress down in yellow for a day to commemorate Rachel.

Matthew Andris, principal of Westampton Middle School where Bungarden is a school social worker, said he is happy to have his staff get in on spreading awareness this year by wearing Scatter Sunshine shirt ons June 6.

“I think it’s great cause,” Andris said.

He said it’s an opportunity not only for the staff to let people know about Scatter Sunshine’s fundraiser but also to learn more about the effects of 7q35 deletion.

Diane Baker-Hallowell, director of Majoda Stables in Moorestown, said the money donated to its equine program has benefited families who cannot afford the $160 monthly fees associated with equine therapy.

She said the program encompasses children with both physical and emotional differences, such as cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury and other challenges.

“I can’t thank them enough that they turned a heartbreaking situation in their family into something that’s positive for other families,” Baker-Hallowell said.

Scatter Sunshine works with both Majoda Stables and Riding High Farm in Allentown where Rachel rode. The number of riders they sponsor each year varies based on the funds raised and the cost of therapy.

Horse riding can be very costly, and Scatter Sunshine’s goal is to just help families to get their kids riding.

“We want to spread the word for people,” Bungarden said. “The more local people we sponsor to ride, the better we feel about the organization.”

For more information on the foundation, visit http://www.scatter-sunshine.org/.

Dylan the horse grazes at Majoda Stables in Moorestown on a particularly warm afternoon on Wednesday, May 17. Beneficiaries of Scatter Sunshine’s scholarships participate in equine therapy at Majoda Stables.